Category Archives: creativity

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Back to School!

The week after Labor Day has a bit of a back-to-school feeling in publishing. Agents and editors are settling back into their desks after the long weekend, saying goodbye to Summer Fridays and getting going on submissions again after the quiet, vacation-heavy month of August. There’s excitement in the air about all the big fall books coming out—DGLM has seven books out today alone!—and everyone is looking forward to the busy, productive three months between now and the winter holidays. My inbox is full of manuscripts from clients who’ve been busy bees over the summer!

As an aspiring Kathleen Kelly, back-to-school season also gets me hankering after new pens and pencils, new notebooks and binders. Even if I don’t strictly neeeeeeeed them, it’s fun to kick off fall with a trip to the office store—convincing myself, of course, that new post-its will be the key to staying organized and efficient during the busy weeks to come.  And DGLM is lucky enough to be located directly above a Staples, so this is an easy whim to indulge!

Anyone else find themselves picking out new office supplies long after their school days are over? What are your favorite tools for staying organized when you hit your busy season?

 

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The Creative Juices

 

A couple of posts ago I wrote about different authors’ processes; what works for some, but not for others. This intriguing interview with Patrick Ryan that recently appeared on the Electric Literature  blog  gives another perspective.

The advice writers most often hear is that they should ideally be the vessel through which their work passes. In her invaluable 1934 book BECOMING A WRITER, Dorothea Brande described the “creative coma” that we now refer to as being “in the zone”:  when the writing is flowing freely, with no self-editing angel looking over your shoulder. It’s AFTER that time that writers should go back over their work with a full editorial eye.  That makes a lot of sense, IF you have the ability to write that way. Not all authors do.

About the writing of his short story “The Way She Handles,” part of his new collection THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS, Patrick Ryan says:

 

The end of “The Way She Handles,” that wasn’t planned. I decided to pull back in order to look at the narrator’s life from a later vantage, and it was thrilling. It was like running on a decline — you realize that the decline is giving you a momentum, and that you’re not entirely in control anymore. I’d never had that experience before. Normally, I’m so controlling. I write so slowly. I rewrite constantly while I write. That’s not a brag — it’s a problem. I write ten words, I take five back. Nearly every writer I know says the point of a first draft is to knock it out, but I can’t. I write a paragraph, and I can’t write the second paragraph until I feel like the first one is in okay shape. It’s not a great way to work. If I have a rare, three-hour session, say, and I write three pages? That’s Olympic. So this was a rare instance where the whole last part of the story came to me in a rush. I looked back on it and thought, how did I get so lucky?

 

By the time he finished the story, he realized, in fact, that the entire emphasis of it had shifted to another character, and it had found its true heart.

 

I’ve always admired writers who are able to focus their creative forces, and to bring their inner editor back only when necessary. Often, it’s much easier said than done. If you’re a writer, please feel free to chime in and let me know if you’re one of those lucky ones who can make this system work.

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Animals & Reading

My heart was recently broken this week by this HuffPost article that announced that Browser, the resident library cat of White Settlement Public Library in Texas was being evicted by the city council. He’s lived in the library for over five years (first brought in to help with a mouse problem). Although Browser doesn’t serve an educational purpose, he’s clearly become a fixture in the community—a petition had over 600 signatures to keep Browser in the library—and it got me thinking about the ways that animals can be involved in our reading experiences. Whether it’s your cat obstinately sitting across your book or a dog draped across your feet as you read, many of us have had the company of our pets as we peruse a book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that animals are involved with reading all over the place, with positive benefits for all parties involved.

LOOK AT THAT FACE. And his BOWTIE.

Take, for instance, the Reading with Rover program, sponsored by Animal Friends in Pittsburgh. Shy or struggling readers in grades one through three practice their reading skills by reading out loud to dogs. ARF! is another program sponsored by All for Animals, with a similar idea, for kids grades K-6. On the flip side, one Humane Society in Missouri has started the Shelter Buddies Reading Program, where kids 6-15 can sign up to read to shy or fearful dogs in the shelter and undergo a 10 hour training program. The program director says it helps give the dogs social interaction (which can help them get adopted faster), without pushing physical interaction upon them; young readers simply sit outside their kennel and read aloud. The New Hampshire SPCA also has a similar program.

If there had been something like this in my neighborhood as a kid, I totally would have volunteered. I think it’s a lovely measure that has advantages for everyone involved and one that’s hopefully instilling pleasant and positive memories in young readers who participate! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

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The bookshelf project: part 2

After posting about the recent arrival of my long awaited built-in bookshelves, and getting some great feedback from our readers, family, and friends, I finally embarked upon the multi-hour project and wanted to share the end result (still a work-in-progress) here:

To give you some more information about the strategy (and it was discussed extensively before the project began as well as throughout the endeavor!), I’ll share how it all played out. We started by unpacking books from boxes as well as taking off of shelves from my office one copy of each of the books I’ve sold during my almost eighteen years at DGLM.

We then labeled the shelves with post-its indicating which category of books would go into which shelves. The broad sections include adult fiction, cookbooks, illustrated/craft, practical nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and children’s. For categories where we had more books, we used more shelves. For the cookbooks, we divided them into sections: general, vegetarian/vegan, and baking and then alphabetized them within the section. Then we filled in the two top shelves with foreign editions of my titles.

We mixed the style of display with horizontal and vertical and left a few books standing up and facing out, and then filled in some blank spaces with decorative touches and picture frames. At that point, we’d filled ten of the fourteen sections, and the other four sections we used for additional cookbooks, miscellaneous awesome books (Hamilton!), and my beloved large and growing collection of books signed by the author, which includes mostly children’s books (I’m that person who will go to an author event with or without my children to get a signed book!) and a few celebrity titles.

I have a lot more books that I’ve read and collected over the years, but I didn’t want to pack the shelves too tight so I could leave room for more of my own titles to fill in. At some point I’ll get another large bookcase which I’ll put  in a different room to house  the others, but for now I’m happy my living room bookshelf project is finally complete.

Please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions for changes or improvements!

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Books with a side of awesomeness

I recently stumbled upon an Instagram account called @bookbento, that’s run by Read it Forward, and then fell in love with its content. It satisfies pretty much every part of me that loves books, good design, pretty knick-knacky things, and the many Instagram filters available. Essentially, @bookbento pairs a book (recent ones include THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri, THE GIRLS by Emma Cline, A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara, and ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes) with items that match elements of the book, set against a striking background. For example, THE ASSISTANTS was paired with a typewriter, a day planner, two pencils, and a cup of coffee. This Instagram makes me want to go out and read all of these books immediately, proving that good visuals can be important!

With social media becoming an ever important way to reach an audience, I think something like @bookbento is an incredible way to draw readers in and maybe convince them to go out and buy a copy of the book. It’s aesthetically pleasing enough that viewers might stop for a closer look, and the elements surrounding the book hint at what might be inside. There were a few books that I certainly Googled afterwards, to see a summary, and then put on my “to-read list.”

What other clever social media accounts about books have you found? What effect do you think they have on both avid readers and readers who might only pick up a book or two a year

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Work spaces

My son’s orchestra teacher sent him home with an assignment this past weekend: Film your practice space and tell me why it inspires you or helps you focus while you practice.  The resulting two-minute video showed my son leading a very limited tour of one corner of our den where his viola and guitar lessons and practices routinely take place.   Showing his teacher that the area was comfortable, brightly lit, teeming with musical instruments (my husband is a guitar collector), with enough room for his music stand, not to mention  easy access for our nosy standard poodle to hang out, earned him an A.  The point of the exercise, I believe, was to make kids aware that where they practice their instruments affects how much and how well they do it.

Given that I’ve spent most of my life looking for that perfect work space for my at-home reading and editing, I found this assignment charming.  My ideal situation would be a quiet, well-lit room, with little to no through-traffic, a comfortable chair—with ottoman for stretching out—a nice side table to stack papers and nearby shelves to keep supplies at easy reach.  The most important thing about this platonic ideal of a work space would be nothing that could create a distraction from the task at hand.  In my H.G. Wells moments, I envision some kind of force field that completely neutralizes iPads, Kindles, iPhones, laptops, televisions, etc., while in the room—basically the room equivalent of noise cancelling headphones.

My reality is a corner of my living room or my bedroom with multiple, every few minutes, interruptions from my husband looking for something only I know where he put, my son listening to the baseball game (or Sponge Bob) loudly nearby, the dog needing to be let out every time someone walks past our house so she can bark at them and then ask to be let back into the house again, my parents calling, texts making my iPhone buzz…. You get the idea.

And this is just me trying to edit, not write.  Which is why I really enjoyed this piece by Victoria Patterson in The Millions.  There’s nothing new about the need writers have for a space conducive to their writing—just ask Virginia Woolf—but these days, when our attentions are so under siege, it’s especially important to find that one place you can get down to the business of creativity.

What’s your writing space like?

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Don’t Judge A Book by Its Dress

Readers find books in a lot of ways: a friend’s suggestion, a radio interview, a magazine ad, a blogger’s review. But nothing beats browsing a bookstore (or a website) and picking a new book simply because the cover caught your eye. In spite of – or perhaps because of – an increasingly digital world, it’s fun to see publishers’ art departments paying a lot of attention to creating arresting covers for books.

So I got a big kick out of this Buzzfeed list matching 24 striking book covers with couture seen on the runway during New York Fashion Week held earlier this month. High fashion and literature might not go hand-in-hand very often, but when they do, it sure is fun!

24 Books That Perfectly Match New York Fashion Week Looks

I don’t know if I’d wear that dress, but I sure would read it!

Have you ever bought a book based on cover design alone? What do you look for in a great cover design? Any favorite book covers that you think would make a great dress?

The art of storytelling

The story matters. But so does the way you tell it. Just learn from this 23-year-old who has been writing a memoir on Instagram.

There are so many great things to love about this story. Sure, I appreciate the beautiful photos and well-written captions, but I admire the sheer ingenuity most of all. Fact: a new memoir is published every 38 minutes. Don’t fact-check me on that, just trust me. There are a lot of memoirs out there. Another fact: not many of them are written using the medium of a photograph social media platform, with carefully curated shots posted a year later, a completely different practice than the usual immediacy and spontaneity of picture posting.

Short stories and even entire novels have been written on Twitter too, but what technology gives, technology also takes away. Algorithms generate news stories and a scary amount of written content that you would never suspect. Don’t believe me? Then take this test.

The point is this: technology has changed everything and will continue to change everything, for better or worse. There are an unimaginable number of ways to spread stories now. Get creative and find a way that is uniquely you. Otherwise computer algorithms may as well write your story for you.

Also, I just wanted to include a quick update on one of my earlier blog posts. In March 2015, I posted a blog about censorship and China being named the guest of honor at BEA 2015. Want to see what that all amounted to? This was the result.

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My love affair with Ann Patchett

I think Ann Patchett is amazing on so many levels. She’s so uniquely talented, is incredibly prolific, and writes nonfiction as well as fiction. I loved her beautiful tribute to Lucy Grealy, Truth & Beauty, as much as her wonderful novels like Bel Canto and State of Wonder.  And I’m a bit biased at the moment because she recently made a large donation to my small town library, which I talked about recently on this blog.

I was pleased to find an article on writing based on her book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, for brainpickings.org that offers such interesting and lovely advice for writers from one of the masters of her craft. In it she talks about how writing nonfiction for her has been easy, while writing fiction has always been more challenging. She talks about the importance of learning to forgive yourself in creating art, which she feels is critical. She uses metaphors that resonate, even if they initially feel a stretch of the imagination.  Why do writers so often feel they can send early work to The New Yorker when musicians would never think they could play at Carnegie Hall after just a month of practice!

Words of wisdom here from a magnificent and gifted writer who not only writes beautiful books, but is so open to sharing her knowledge and skills with other writers. She’s a true gift. Enjoy!

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Plausibility

As devoted DGLM readers know, we run an in-house book club here to broaden our horizons and keep abreast of categories we might not otherwise investigate. This month, we’re doing thrillers, and while I enjoyed my book—fast-paced, good characters, lots of practical information—ultimately it bugged me because the central premise was totally unbelievable. While there’s eventually a plot-twist that tries to explain away the implausibility of the concept, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Yet without naming names, the book came from a Big Six house, edited by a top editor, and was the author’s tenth novel. It came armed with tons of blurbs from major authors, and I could find only one review that took issue with the premise. To which I say… really? But while I sit here feeling like I’m taking crazy pills with Mugatu from ZOOLANDER, the book did make me think about plausibility in general.

I’m sure plausibility is a question  for all writers, but especially ones who write in plot-heavy genres like thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, kids books, etc. It’s hard enough to come up with inventive plots, character and voice, yet do it in a way that readers will buy–even if your story is about, say, zombie kittens from Mars. So if you’re wrestling with plausibility issues, check out this essay from Steve Almond in Writer’s Digest, which ably dissects the various plausibility traps writers often fall into (I’d say the premise of my Book Club book falls under the Factual/Logistical umbrella). Or, for an elegant summation of how to think about plausibility, it’s hard to beat this letter from Ursula K. LeGuin.

How many of you have run into problems with plausibility? And how have you found your way out of the traps?